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Monday, 16 August 2010

Example #2, 1 Samuel 13:1 (Part III, Case Studies in Interpolation; in the series "Is 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 an interpolation?")

"The-son of-a-year was Saul in his reigning, and years two he-reigned over Israel."

That's a hyperliteral translation of 1 Samuel 13:2. To bring it into conformity with standard English usage, we would have to change it to read:

"Saul was a year old when he began to reign, and he reigned two years over Israel."

Though the numbers of course vary, that is how this particular Hebrew regnal formula is always translated in the Historical Books. But you won't find it so translated here. Why not?

Well, everybody knows that Saul wasn't one when he became king, and that he reigned way more than two years over Israel. There are only three possible ways to account for the presence of this verse in First Samuel:

1) It was inspired as written, but needs to be interpreted allegorically. This was the position of the Masoretes who faithfully copied it down through the centuries. A corollary view is that it is inspired as it was divinely translated into English--thus blaming God twice--once for inspiring nonsense, and then again for inspiring a totally off-the wall translation of it.

2) It was originally written with two numbers that are now missing, which if still present would fit into the blanks to read as follows:
"Saul was __ years old when he became king, and he reigned __ty-two years over Israel." This is the approach taken by several modern versions. A pity they can't seem to agree on either of the numbers they provide. Well, they do generally appear to agree on forty-two for the second number, but claim to be basing this on the number in Acts 13:21, which isn't in fact forty-two, but just plain forty.

3. This is clearly an interpolation--probably originally penned into the margin, with blank spaces for the numbers, by a scribe who thought it a pity that Israel's first king had no regnal formula provided at the inception of his reign, and who expected to eventually find information elsewhere in order to fill in the blanks in his marginal notation. Later, a subsequent scribe went ahead and moved it into the text, with the unknown numbers still missing.

I think it should be obvious to the reader why the White Man rejects the first option. But I'll give a little more detail on why I reject the second as well.

Numbers are an easy thing to mess up when copying text, especially if they are not written out, as is often the case in ancient Scripture texts. Furthermore, since numbers were signified by alphabetical letters, it was possible to confuse a numeral with the letters of a word. To avoid seeming to write out the name of God, for example, scribes wrote the numeral 15 as if it were six-and-nine rather than five-and-ten.

But despite the propensity for writing the wrong numeral, a scribe seldom wrote no numeral at all. It's almost inconceivable that any scribal slip could result in the present reading of 1 Samuel 13:1, were that verse originally in the text.

And here we come to the crux of the matter: if it's an interpolation, it was never in the text to begin with. And the scenario I described is the most likely explanation for its present form in the text. I should add, though, that as far back as the so-called Lucianic Recension, manuscripts of 1 Samuel contained the interpolation, with numbers supplied. A pity the various recensions couldn't seem to agree on the numbers either.

But going even further back, we can locate a text of 1 Samuel that went directly from 12:25 to 13:2. There is external support for identifying this as an interpolation--external support, that is, only in translations of 1 Samuel--not in manuscripts of the Hebrew text itself. And, I propose, these are not needed; the internal evidence is sufficient to indicate an interpolation.

Let's run through the checklist:

1. - abrupt changes in the subject matter or interruptions in an otherwise continuous train of thought;
2. - seeming inconsistencies or contradictions that conflict with other material in the document;
3. - the presence of certain formulae in supposedly inappropriate or uncustomary contexts;
4. - repetition of redundant elements or perceived changes in tone or style;
5. - the supposed assumption by the writer of different circumstances on the part of the intended audience;
6 - the perceived character of the manuscripts that don't contain the alleged interpolation;
7 - the variety of readings in the manuscripts that do contain the alleged interpolation.

1) Yes. The regnal forumula usually occurs at the point a new king is brought into the narrative. Saul was introduced in chapter nine, anointed in chapter ten, acclaimed in chapter eleven, and installed in chapter twelve. Chapter thirteen starts a new section on his military exploits against the Philistines. 13:1 just doesn't fit.
2) Yes, the interpolation as preserved is inconsistent with what we know of Saul's age and length of rule.
3) Yes. Usually this formula includes the name of the King's mother. And it belongs at least a couple chapters back in the text anyway.
4) Yes, at least in the common English translation: "Saul reigned one year, and when he had reigned two years . . ." Total redundancy.
5) Yes. The intended audience expects the regnal formula, even for Israel's first king.
6) Yes. Most LXX mss don't contain it; only the five Lucianic mss do, and then with added numbers.
7) Yes. The Lucianic mss have age 30, the Syriac have age 21, the NEB conjectures 50, and the NASB 40. The number for the length of reign doesn't match the parallel passage.

So, there you have it--the highest-scoring alleged interpolation in the entire Bible. Yet not a single English Version--even those that think nothing of deleting one or two dozen verses from the New Testament based on the allegation that they had their basis in a Lucianic Recension--is willing to delete this Old Testament verse on the same basis. They consider it scripture, but they must twist both its text and its meaning to avoid sheer nonsense.

I think it's very safe to say that if 1 Samuel 13:1 isn't an interpolation, then 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 isn't one, either. But is that really saying anything?

Stay tuned for our next example.

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